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Beating writer's block



Writer's block has existed for almost as long as writing itself has existed.

It is a simple phenomenon where a writer simply cannot string words together into sentences or sentences together into meaningful paragraphs. It is that time where the writer, try however hard she may, just doesn't seem to have inspiration cast even a little glance in her direction. It is that time when the writer feels like she can't write to save her life.

Write'r block is a noted phenomenon. However, the same kind of block crops up in all sorts of creative work. A painter just isn't able to paint something meaningful. A product manager just isn't able to come up with new features to work on.

Any idea that comes to the head is easily rejected because it feels like it isn't good enough. And the longer the block lasts, the easier it gets to reject new ideas. Because, the thinking then goes, 'I have been trying so hard all this while to create something, it had better be really good.'

Several writers have written about how they overcome writer's block (after all, it affects even the best of the lot). Some suggest maintaining dream journals to allow for a free flow of uninhibited ideas. Others suggest writing something anyway even if it is horribly bad because it is about maintaining a habit and a discipline that will eventually pay off. There are also those that suggest taking time off from writing (or whatever creative act that you're blocked on) and doing something altogether different and unconnected, like going dancing or walking along a zoo.

Of course, each creator is different and they should try what works for them. But over the years, I have always fallen back on questions as a way to beat writer's block (and product manager's block).

Questions are easy and plentiful. In fact, a certain mathematician once proved that there will always be more questions than answers in the Universe.

When experiencing a block, the best thing to do (for me) is to consume - consume data of how users are interacting with my product, or consume articles and books others have written, or consume stories that other people tell through movies, conversation or whatever other medium.

But, with a catch. Consumption as an unhindered activity in itself, like binge-watching an entire season of Game Of Thrones, doesn't help beating writer's block.

Consumption when paired with a question does.

And the question is simply, what is the author of this trying to convey? What is the problem that she is trying to solve? What is the question that she is trying to answer?

And once I know that, I can then ask myself the same question. Would I answer it the same way? Would I do things differently than the author or the director? Do I agree with everything that is said?

And if I have something else to say to the same question, if I have a different way of answering it, then I have found my inspiration. It is then just a matter of putting things down into words. Which is the easy part.

So, the lesson to me - always ask questions. And don't accept things that are told without questioning them. This is generic advice we all get very often. But if I learn nothing else from doing this, I will at least beat my writer's block. :)

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